I have been working my way through my 2019 Wargame Challenge – The Charles S Roberts Awards with Wings (Yaquinto Publishing, 1981) being the latest to get played. This game was the 1981 CSR winner for “Best Twentieth Century Wargame,” and deservedly so! I am very fortunate that I still have my Yaquinto First Edition with John Hagen’s beautiful cover art.¹
Wings is designed by the prolific S. Craig Taylor, Jr. whose previous air combat game designs included Air Force (Battleline, 1976) – a game enjoyed by the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself. By 1981, the Battleline games had been taken over by Avalon Hill and Mr. Taylor worked for Yaquinto. In the Designer’s Notes for Wings he comments:
I still take quite a bit of pride in the game system used in that series of games, but now, in 1981, that system is over five years old, and is no longer “state of the art” in wargame design. WINGS presents a new and improved game system that, while being radically different in many ways, maintains the playability of the earlier game system while being far more accurate, adaptable, and flexible.
My impression of Wings is that the system is more an incremental evolution of the original plotted air combat system in Air Force and less a “radically different” game. I think that is why I was able to pick up the rules for this game quickly back in the day and am able to do the same even now.
Like many Yaquinto games of its day, the rule book for Wings used a landscape 9″x12″ booklet clocking in at 52-pages; a bit “heavy” for its day. However, there literally is five games in the rule book; the Basic Game, Advanced Game, Optional Rules, The Duel Game Rules, and The Mass Game Rules. Each one can be learned in smaller, more easily digestible chunks. Indeed, this is what Mr. Taylor recommends:
These rules may seem to be long and complex, but their bulk is deceptive. The rules need not be memorized, but should be carefully and thoroughly read. To jog the player’s memories, the most commonly used and needed information is given on the Game Cards, the Data Cards, and the Command Sheets for easy accessibility during play. In fact, players will discover that learning the game consists of learning relatively few procedures, and understanding what the information on the Game Cards, Data Cards, and Command Sheets means. The rules should be used as a reference for questions that arise during the actual play of the game, and a Table of Contents is included for ease of locating needed rules. The rules do not have to be learned in one sitting. Games can be and should be played using only the Basic Game Rules, until these are mastered and thoroughly understood. Then, learn the Advanced Game Rules, and play some games with those. The Optional Rules should be learned last, and selected Optional Rules introduced as the player’s mastery of the game increases. The Duel Game Rules should be tried only by players who have fully mastered the Basic and Advanced Games and the Optional Rules, and desire a game of great complexity and detail. If the players master each part of the rules before going into the next part, they will find that learning and mastering the rules will be much easier. There is no need for a new player to read further than to the end of the Basic Game Rules before proceeding to the scenarios to begin setting up the first game. (Emphasis in original)
This is excellent advice for any boardgamer or wargamer. Much like Alexander from The Players’ Aid recently talked about.²
For my game I used the Basic and Advanced Game Rules as well as the Optional Rules for Sighting (The Optional Rules, III. Sighting Rules). I set up according to Scenario TWO: “Dogfights” and used the Suggested Plane Charts on the Wings Set Up Card to pick two aircraft in a mid-1917 battle. Wanting to move away from the classic Western Front match-up, I instead looked for an Italian versus Austria-Hungary confrontation and ended up with a Italian HANRIOT HD.1 against an Oeffeg-ALBATROS D.III (mid 1917).
Mechanically, the game flows very well. One innovation introduced in Wings as compared to Air Force is the use of plotting by impulses. Instead of writing out a single plotted line, each turn is divided into impulses and the number of impulses plotted is equal to the aircraft speed. There is also an updated method of plotting for maneuvers which helps ensure the proper pre-maneuver costs are paid. Not shown in the photo above are the very small tokens for the plane counters that show aircraft bank status. Although a bit fiddly, showing the bank status directly on the board (rather than being kept only on the Command Sheet) helps get past some of the “tailing” issues that arise from the simultaneous movement.
Which leads into the only real negative I have for Wings – the size factor. Aircraft counters are 5/8″ but the little tokens are really tiny. Additionally, the Data Cards are 2.75″x4.25″ with a really tiny font. Both get hard to handle or read.
Combat does require the use of tables but with a little familiarity it can be resolved quickly. Basically, the firer cross-references the number of bursts with the range on the GUNNERY TABLES along with a few modifiers to generate a Hit Table Number that is rolled against on the HIT TABLES. The resulting damage is crossed off the Command Sheet and the impact assessed.
And it all works. Fairly quickly. Realistic feeling yet playable.
Wings is a very good game and I can see why some folks use the rules even these days for miniatures. Indeed, the rise of Wings of Glory (Ares Games) gives Wings grognards like myself a chance to bring out the rules again usinf the pre-painted miniatures. Wings was a winner in 1981 – and it is still a winner today.
Attentive readers will note that the Basic Game, Advanced Game, Optional Rules, and Duel Game are only four. So where did the fifth game go?
The fifth game in Wings is The Mass Game. This game is really different from the others being literally a separate game:
These rules have little to do with the other sections of this rulebook, and other rules do not apply unless specifically stated to do so. Dice rolls are handled as explained earlier, and only the Point Values, Notes, and Mass Game Information sections of the Data Cards are used. The Mass Game is intended to provide an abstract game – a simple and fun set of rules that enables players to easily and quickly handle large numbers of planes. Two, or more, players can participate, with each player controlling six to twenty-four individual planes.
I remember playing a Mass Game back in the day with many planes. I remember it as fun. I probably need to try it again….
As though five games was not enough, the Designer’s Notes talk about a “sixth” game:
A second game (as yet untitled) to supplement WINGS is planned for release in 1982 or 1983. This game will contain an additional fifty Data Cards and their accompanying Plane units, additional Optional Rules and Scenarios, and a complete “Strategic Game” that can be played independently, or used to generate tactical games using the Wings rules. Together, the two games should present the most complete and detailed look at World War I in the air ever presented in game form.
I never saw that game. I don’t think it ever got printed.
¹ At the time I drafted this post Mr. Hagen was not credited in BoardGameGeek with this box cover. Correction submitted!
² For another really good perspective on reading rules watch this video from Alexander over at The Players’ Aid
Feature image BoardGameGeek.com